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Papyrus Amherst 63 Ward, Stephen


Papyrus Amherst 63, also known as the “Mystery Papyrus,” has been an enigma for quite some time. It is a large text, with a total of 23 columns. The text is also diverse in its content. There are not any prohibitions or legal literature in this corpus. It seems to be a collection of literature – prayers, poems, hymns, psalms, blessings, and it concludes with a literary tale about the seventh-century revolt of Shamash-shum-ukin of Babylonia against his brother, Assurbanipal of Assyria. There is a reference to the worship of various gods such as Mar, Anat, Bethel, Ba’al, and Adonai. There are hymns that are dedicated to the Jewish God YHWH or Adonai, the Babylonian goddess Nanay, and to various other Semitic deities. This collection of deities represents the religious ideologies of the Aramaic-speaking communities of the Babylonians, Syrians, and Jews, at the very least. The diversity incorporated in the text is only the beginning of its complexity. This document was purchased by Lord Amherst at the end of the 19th century and now resides in The Morgan Library in New York City. This papyrus' provenance is ancient Egypt. It was found in a jar outside of Thebes but is thought by some to originate around Elephantine and Aswan. Considering it was written in Egypt, it is not surprising that the script is Demotic, the penultimate phase of the Egyptian language and in regular use for legal, economic texts, as well as correspondence and literature. Considering the various cultures that resided in Egypt, it is also not surprising that texts in the Aramaic language were produced. The most surprising thing about this papyrus is that it is written in Demotic script while the language is Aramaic. The context of production is relatively unknown. Some have suggested that it was produced in the context of the community. It is also possible that a professional scribe was hired to compose this text in the Demotic script. While this text has not received a great amount of attention there is one part of the content that drew a great deal of interest in the mid-1980s. It was discovered that col. XII 11–19 is a psalm that parallels Psalm 20 in the Hebrew Bible. This became a focal point of publications. Many articles written concerning this section look at the possibility of this text having the original version of the psalm. While that has been inconclusive, both this text and psalm 20 probably draw from the same original. This papyrus is still understudied and is starting to receive more attention from scholars.

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